Vehicle overview We have to give Jeep credit for trying harder this year. Nearly all of the improvements seen in the 2011 Jeep Compass are related to issues about which we've previously griped. Plastic-fantastic interior? Jeep has added soft-touch materials to the cabin. Not worthy of a Jeep badge? Now there's an off-road package with low-range gearing. Too-cute styling? This year's updated sheet metal includes a Grand Cherokee-style front end and additional chrome flourishes that make for a notably more upscale appearance. At the same time, the Compass still lacks the refinement it needs to keep pace with other vehicles in this increasingly popular category of crossover utility vehicles. Developed from the Dodge Caliber platform just like the Dodge Patriot (and the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport as well), the Compass has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine at its command, much like all the vehicles in this category. But it also has a continuously variable transmission (CVT) all its own, and this choice makes the engine seem noisy and unrefined even as it boasts both improved acceleration and better fuel economy. While the new steering wheel, soft-touch door trim and a vastly improved visual presentation help the cabin of the Compass set itself apart from its competition, this Jeep is about style, not necessarily comfort. Outward visibility is still an issue with the Compass' small windows, while the seats aren't entirely comfortable. Nevertheless, the recalibration of the Compass as a 4WD vehicle makes sense to us. Its prime attributes become utility and mobility, instead of carlike comfort and refinement, and this matches not only Jeep's brand image but also the character of the Compass itself. Hiking, camping and other outdoor sports enthusiasts should know that the Compass does have an advantage over its rivals thanks to the newly available off-road package that includes all the requisite hardware to earn Jeep's Trail Rated moniker. Aggressive all-terrain tires, a low range for the transmission and skid plates provide a unique measure of rugged capability not seen elsewhere in this segment of soft-roaders. While off-road credentials give the 2011 Jeep Compass some authenticity, it's fair to say this vehicle is still fighting to discover its identity. As a passenger package, it's affordable, fuel-efficient and easy to drive, yet not entirely refined. As an off-road utility vehicle, it has all-wheel drive and a tractable engine, yet it's not as rugged as a Jeep Liberty. Alternatives include the 2011 Honda CR-V, 2011 Hyundai Tucson, 2011 Kia Sportage, 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, 2011 Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4. 2011 Jeep Compass models The 2011 Jeep Compass is a five-passenger compact SUV available in base and Limited trim levels. Standard equipment on the base Compass includes 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, foglamps, heated sideview mirrors, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel and a four-speaker stereo with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The Latitude package adds heated front seats, driver seat height adjuster, a fold-flat front passenger seat, reclining rear seats, a 115-volt auxiliary power point and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. The Limited includes all the preceding features and adds 18-inch alloy wheels, exterior chrome accents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a trip computer, automatic climate control, a power driver seat, leather upholstery, satellite radio and an in-dash six-CD changer. There are several packages available on both trims. The Security and Cargo Convenience Group adds a security alarm, front side airbags, a cargo cover, an auto-dimming rearview mirror (base), a trip computer (base), a USB port (Limited) and Uconnect voice command with Bluetooth (Limited). Remote start is also included if the vehicle is equipped with the CVT. The Sun and Sound Group adds upgraded speakers (including a pair that flip and face outward from the opened tailgate), a sunroof and, for the base model, satellite radio. The Media Center option adds a hard-drive-based navigation system, digital music storage and a USB audio jack. The Freedom-Drive II Off-Road package includes active 4WD, a low-range mode for the CVT, engine oil cooler, hill ascent/descent assist, 17-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, skid plates, tow hooks, a driver seat height adjuster and all-season floor mats. 2011 Highlights For 2011 the Jeep Compass has been refreshed with updated styling as well as improvements in handling dynamics and interior quality. An Off-Road package with low-range gearing, increased ride height, all-terrain tires and skid plates also gives the Compass legitimate off-road ability. Performance & mpg Front-wheel drive is standard on the 2011 Jeep Compass, while a four-wheel-drive system is optional. The Freedom Drive I 4WD system operates in front-wheel-drive mode in normal situations and automatically applies power to the rear wheels when needed. It can also be locked in 4WD mode, with up to 60 percent of the engine's torque sent to the rear wheels for better off-road traction. The Freedom Drive II Off-Road package includes a low-range mode for the CVT to further improve mobility. Every Compass except the base front-wheel-drive version comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine; this engine is optional on the base Compass. The 2.4 makes 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a CVT is optional. In Edmunds testing of a 2011 Jeep Compass Limited 4X4 equipped with the CVT (Freedom Drive I), the 3,405-pound vehicle accelerated to 60 mph from a standstill in 10.3 seconds and reached the quarter-mile in 17.6 seconds at 80.5 mph. EPA-rated fuel economy for the Compass is 21 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. With the five-speed manual, it's capable of 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. A front-wheel-drive Compass with the 2.4-liter engine and CVT can achieve 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Available only on the front-wheel-drive base Compass, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 158 hp and 141 lb-ft of torque and offers the same transmission choices as the 2.4. EPA-rated fuel economy ratings stand at 23 mpg city and 29 mpg highway with a manual transmission and 23 mpg city and 27 mpg highway with the CVT. Safety Standard safety features include stability control with a rollover sensor, full-length side curtain airbags and traction control. Front-seat side airbags are optional. The Jeep Compass has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to the new tests) were four out of five stars for frontal-impact crash protection and five stars for side-impact protection. In Edmunds testing, a Compass Limited 4X4 on Firestone Firehawk GTA 215/55R18 tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet. Driving Even with the larger 2.4-liter engine, the 2011 Jeep Compass feels sluggish during merging and passing maneuvers, especially when equipped with 4WD and the power-sapping CVT. It's also quite noisy. This is related to the characteristics of the CVT rather than the engine. The Compass has received a thorough makeover of its suspension for 2011 and rides with improved stability and poise, but it might be too lively for some. Interior The Compass sports an improved cabin this year, with a more comfortable steering wheel and soft-touch material on the front doors and console armrest. We generally found seat comfort unimpressive, however. The Compass offers some useful storage spaces, including an open bin on the passenger side of the dash. The rear seatbacks fold flat, and fold-flat capability for the front passenger seatback (standard on Limited, optional on base) allows you to carry longer items inside. The cargo area itself is a couple cubic feet smaller than the competition, measuring 22.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 53.6 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.